Back in 1991, Rare rocked players’ worlds with the original Battletoads on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Battletoads combined original designs, challenging gameplay, and a truly bizarre sense of humor.
As great as the game was, subsequent titles provided diminishing returns. Sequels like Battletoads in Battlemaniacs and Battletoads & Double Dragons (both from 1993) were pale shadows of the original title. And the 1994 Battletoads Arcade Game was bloody fun (literally), but it failed to make a splash with audiences.
Now, 26 years since its last installment, the toads are back in an all-new adventure. Available on PC and Xbox One, Battletoads (2020) has some big shoes to fill and a major reputation to live up to. And for the most part, the new game succeeds on both counts.
Battletoads’ new design
In some ways, the most divisive thing about the new Battletoads game is the new designs. While the earlier games made the toads look like an edgy variant of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the new game gives them a highly stylized and cartoonish look.
That look is divisive among fans. While the animation is very crisp (like Cuphead with a light filter of grain), the “take control of a cartoon” aesthetic isn’t for everyone.
I was one of the players initially turned off by the new designs. They eventually won me over, but that may be a side effect of the fun gameplay rather than the art design.
Different toads, different styles
Battletoads has had multiplayer gaming in its DNA from the very beginning. But in those early games, the toads typically played exactly the same. And only a few cosmetic differences let you tell who is who.
In this new game, the differences are more than skin deep. Each toad has a different fighting style and different sets of crazy animations for their attacks.
These different styles are still balanced, though. Pimple may hit the hardest, for example, but he moves the slowest. And it will be up to each player to find the toad best suited to their style.
Battletoads’ generous difficulty
The original Battletoads is well-known for its difficulty. Most players didn’t make it past the notorious speeder bike stage. And if you kept going, the game only got tougher from there.
Veteran ‘Toads fans are likely wondering about the difficulty of this new game. To my surprise, this game is surprisingly generous to players,
If your character dies, you can “tag in” one of the remaining toads. And the “dead” toad can actually return to play after about 30 seconds. With a bit of practice, you can tag in different toads and stretch fights out long enough to return fallen heroes to life.
Battletoads (2020) is also generous with its continues. Not only do you get unlimited continues, but the game will autosave during different stages of boss fights. If you wipe out during the fight, you’ll hop back in where you were instead of starting from the beginning.
Finally, the raw difficulty just isn’t that bad on the standard difficulty, though you can crank things up for more challenge. However, one trip through the game’s new speeder bike stages will convince you this is nowhere near as difficult as the original.
And if it’s still giving you trouble, you can even toggle invincibility on to make it through the most difficult sections.
Battletoads’ mixed bag of humor
Battletoads has always had a streak of humor. That humor is alive and well in the newest title, though the delivery is sometimes a mixed bag.
For example, the Dark Queen (a character known for her campy threats to the titular toads) has surprisingly juvenile lines in which she implores foes to “suck my friggin’ butt.” She follows this by backing her rear end up and exclaiming “Beep beep, garbage butt backing up!”
Such adolescent humor did nothing for me. But I did enjoy the more “out there” humor, like a fallen foe pondering the metaphysical implications that there was no afterlife when he died. And there is a running gag about the toads being unsure whether they are brothers or not that remained funny throughout.
Long story short, this game is long on jokes. Just don’t expect to laugh at every one of them!
Battletoads’ challenging mobs
As pretty and polished as it is, there is nothing super-original about the gameplay. This is a sidescrolling beat’em like you have played a hundred times before. How, then, can Battletoads (2020) make this experience unique?
It all comes down to the diverse mix of mobs and environmental backgrounds. Battles often have a perfect blend of long-range and short-range foes, and occasional foes that can do things like shock the water around you.
That sounds simple, but it transforms each fight into a scramble to focus your priorities. Do you want to take out the shooting enemy on the left? That’s fine, but you still have to dodge the shooting enemy on the right as well as the melee foes closing in.
Fortunately, Battletoads (2020) gives you enough different attacks, including the ability to stun foes with bubble gum. By mastering those techniques, you can overcome even the most challenging mobs.
Battletoads’ multiplayer fun
It’s no surprise that Battletoads (2020) has multiplayer. What is surprising, though, are all the creative ways that it integrates multiplayer throughout.
For example, the beat’em portions of the game keep things simple. You and the other player(s) just keep hitting stuff and heading to the right until you hit the next challenge.
Sometimes, though, there will be puzzles to unlock a door. In multiplayer, each player must overcome their own portion of the puzzle.
Other times, you’ll fly a spaceship against hordes of enemies in a fun mashup of Galaga and Geometry Wars. In multiplayer, one person flies the ship and the other fires. It’s a rewarding experience… provided you don’t kill the other player in frustration!
So… many… mini-games
If I have one gripe about Battletoads (2020), it is the amount and length of the various mini-games. At first, they provide a nice break from hacking and slashing through levels. By the end, I was practically begging the game to let me skip some of these games and get back to the beat’em up action.
Small games, such as hacking doors, are fun and refreshing. But things like the spaceship sequences can be downright frustrating. And, love it or hate it, you’ll be doing spaceship combat multiple times.
The part that nearly broke my brain was a series of minigames where you ostensibly fix the damaged spaceship. This involves playing a series of different mini-games while a brutal timer clicks down to zero. And unless you can beat everything on time, you end up restarting the whole thing.
This game has a nasty learning curve. And what happened when I “fixed” the ship? It crashed anyway, which was just salt in a pretty nasty wound.
Battletoads (2020): Final Verdict
Mini-games aside, is the new Battletoads worth your time? Absolutely. Or, as the game might put it, “toadally!”
The animation is crisp, the level designs are vibrant, and the action is fierce. The game is tough-but-fair, and it provides plenty of high-concept action set pieces in its short running time.
Over a quarter-century ago, Battletoads tried and failed to launch a multimedia franchise. Now, with a game that looks and plays this good, they just might succeed.
What do you think of Battletoads (2020)? Sound off in the comments below!